Trader Joe’s ditches mask mandate; Walmart, Target, and others keep it for now

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Trader Joe’s on Friday became the first major U.S. retailer to drop its mask requirement for fully vaccinated customers after the CDC said it was safe for vaccinated Americans to ditch their masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday issued new guidance that said fully vaccinated Americans are no longer recommended to wear masks indoors or outdoors, except where local regulations or businesses require them. In response, Trader Joe’s updated its COVID-19 policies to comport with the CDC’s new recommendations.

“We encourage customers to follow the guidance of health officials, including, as appropriate, CDC guidelines that advise customers who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks while shopping,” the company said.

A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s told USA Today that customers will not be required to show proof of vaccination to enter their stores without a mask. Employees are still required to wear masks for the time being.

Other major U.S. retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Home Depot, are still requiring customers to wear masks, even if they have been fully vaccinated.

Target said in a statement the company “will continue to require all of our coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing” while they review the new CDC guidance.

Walmart credited mask-wearing requirements with mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in its stores in a statement saying the requirements will not be lifted.

“We serve millions of Americans every week and believe our policy of requiring associates and customers to wear masks in our stores has helped protect them during the pandemic, and we’re not lifting those measures at this time,” the company said.

Pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens have elected to keep their mask mandates in place because they provide COVID-19 vaccinations, reasoning that unvaccinated people who come to get the vaccine still have a chance of carrying the virus.

“As a destination for COVID vaccine and testing we have decided to keep our current face covering policy in place for the time being,” said Walgreens spokeswoman Emily Hartwig-Mekstan in a statement. “The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority and will continue to guide our decision process.”

Labor unions criticized the CDC’s new guidance and demanded clarity on how store workers are supposed to enforce the new requirements.

The CDC “fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks,” United Food and Commercial Workers’ union President Marc Perrone told USA Today.

Perrone complained that store workers “are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures” and wondered how they are expected to be “vaccination police” as well.

“Vaccinations are helping us take control of this pandemic, but we must not let our guard down,” Perrone said. “As one of America’s largest unions for essential workers, UFCW is calling on the CDC and our nation’s leaders to clarify how this new policy will be implemented, how essential workers will be protected, and how these workers will protect the communities they serve.”

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